For other uses, see Birkenfeld (disambiguation).

Coat of arms

Coordinates: 49°39′N 7°11′E / 49.650°N 7.183°E / 49.650; 7.183Coordinates: 49°39′N 7°11′E / 49.650°N 7.183°E / 49.650; 7.183
Country Germany
State Rhineland-Palatinate
District Birkenfeld
Municipal assoc. Birkenfeld
  Mayor Peter Nauert (CDU)
  Total 13.58 km2 (5.24 sq mi)
Population (2015-12-31)[1]
  Total 6,883
  Density 510/km2 (1,300/sq mi)
Time zone CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2)
Postal codes 55765
Dialling codes 06782
Vehicle registration BIR
View of the town from the Burgberg
Schloss Birkenfeld, now a castle ruin (Matthäus Merian 17th century)
Birkenfeld in Oldenburg times, 1829
The "new" (Oldenburg) Schloss

Birkenfeld is a town and the district seat of the Birkenfeld district in southwest Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. It is also the seat of the like-named Verbandsgemeinde.



The town lies in the Nahegebiet (Nahe area), to the north of the namesake river, on the edge of the Naturpark Saar-Hunsrück. Birkenfeld lies roughly 13 km southwest of Idar-Oberstein and 12 km northwest of Baumholder.

Neighbouring municipalities

Clockwise from the north, these are Gollenberg, Elchweiler, Schmißberg, Rimsberg, Dienstweiler, Ellweiler, Dambach, Brücken, Buhlenberg and Ellenberg.


The name Birkenfeld has its origin in an old German dialect, Old Frankish. It means something rather like “at the field with the birches” (it is directly cognate with the English words “birch field”). From the name’s Frankish roots it can be inferred that today’s town arose on a spot where there was quite a noticeable stand of birch trees sometime about the year AD 500, and that it was founded by Frankish-German farmers. To this day, there are a great number of birch trees in the bird conservation area at the clay quarries.

The first attestation of the name is spelled Bikenuelt (about 700) or Birkinvelt at the time when it had a documentary mention from Archbishop of Trier Egbert in 981. From this document comes knowledge that Saint Leudwinus (Archbishop of Trier 695-713) had donated to the St. Paulinus' Abbey in Trier the churches at Birkenfeld and Brombach.

Archaeological finds from the Iron Age, however, bear witness to quite heavy settlement even in the 8th century BC. In the 1st century BC, Roman legions overran the area, and for 400 years, it lay under Roman rule. This is known mainly from finds made in the town’s immediate vicinity. The town that is now Birkenfeld lies right on a Roman road that served as a crosslink between two important military roads, namely the Metz-Mainz road to the south and the Trier-Bingen-Mainz road to the north, which was mentioned by Roman poet Ausonius in his Mosella in AD 350, and which also corresponds along some stretches with the Hunsrückhöhenstraße (“Hunsrück Heights Road”, a scenic road across the Hunsrück built originally as a military road on Hermann Göring’s orders). This crosslink, also known as the Bronzestraße (“Bronze Road”), linked the Glan, Nohen and the Moselle with each other. The Bronzestraße crossed the Nahe in Nohen (villa Aldena) and ran farther on, right through the Wasserschieder Wald, a state forest that still stands today on the town’s outskirts, by way of Gollenberg, by Börfink and on towards Trier.

The Frankish settlement of Birkinvelt was held in the 13th century by the Counts of Sponheim. In 1223, the County was split into the “Front” and “Rear” Counties of Sponheim, and Birkenfeld passed to the latter, and was then held by the counts whose seat was at the Starkenburg (castle, now a ruin) near Trarbach. In 1293, Castle Birkenfeld had its first documentary mention. In 1332, Birkenfeld was granted town rights by Emperor Louis the Bavarian.

After the last Count of Sponheim died in 1437, the “Rear” County was inherited by the Margraves of Baden and the Counts of Veldenz. In 1584, a House of Wittelsbach sideline, in the person of Charles I, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld, resided in town. In this same year, expansion work also began on the castle to turn it into a princely residence in the Renaissance style. Exactly 140 years later, the last remnants of the Princely holding of court at Schloss Birkenfeld, as it had come to be known, were swept away. During the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), the town itself became in 1635 a theatre of war. Also that year, the Plague broke out in Birkenfeld and claimed 416 lives.

In 1776, under Margrave Karl Friedrich, Birkenfeld became seat of the Badish Oberamt. In this time, Birkenfeld blossomed. The town experienced an economic and cultural upswing. In 1779, for instance, the first “Higher School” was founded. In Napoleon’s time, in 1798, the Rhine’s left bank was ceded to France, whereafter Birkenfeld belonged to the Department of Sarre.

One night in February 1797, Johannes Bückler, known as Schinderhannes, burgled a cloth factory owned by the Brothers Stumm, who would later become coal and steel entrepreneurs on the Saar. A large part of the cloth stolen during this break-in Schinderhannes sold to a fence in Hundheim.[2]

After the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), the Principality of Birkenfeld was awarded to the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg in 1817 for the contribution of Peter I, then regent of Oldenburg, to the military effort against Napoleon. Under Oldenburg rule, the new palatial castle, which is now the district administration’s seat, was built in 1821. Not only was this built, but so were further buildings in the Governmental Quarter (Regierungsviertel), such as the infantry barracks (until 1963, a Gymnasium building, now the local office for the regulation of expenditures caused by stationed forces), which to this day characterize the town’s appearance with their Classicist style from Oldenburg times.

In the time of the Third Reich, the town became on 1 April 1937 part of the Prussian district of Birkenfeld, which was formed out of the former Oldenburg holdings and the Restkreis (roughly “remnant district”) of the former exclave of Saxe-Coburg from 1814 to 1834, St. Wendel-Baumholder (this designation as a Restkreis had arisen from its being what had been left of the Sankt Wendel district on the Prussian side of the border once the Territory of the Saar Basin had been formed under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles). After the Second World War, Birkenfeld belonged to the French zone of occupation, and since 1946, it has been a district seat in Rhineland-Palatinate.


In 2008, 50% of the town’s inhabitants were Evangelical and 31% were Catholic.[3] Besides these two biggest groups, there are an Evangelical Free Church congregation (Baptists), the Mennonite Brethren Church, a New Apostolic church and the Jehovah's Witnesses.


Birkenfeld has been a district seat since 1947 and forms together with 30 other municipalities a Verbandsgemeinde, a kind of collective municipality, called the Verbandsgemeinde of Birkenfeld.

Town council

The council is made up of 22 council members, who were elected by proportional representation at the municipal election held on 7 June 2009, and the honorary mayor as chairman.

The municipal election held on 7 June 2009 yielded the following results:[4]

2009 8 8 3 2 1 22 seats
2004 8 11 - 2 1 22 seats

BFL is Birkenfelder Freie Liste (“Birkenfeld Free List”). BfB is Bürger für Birkenfeld (“Citizens for Birkenfeld”).


Birkenfeld’s mayor is Peter Nauert (CDU), and his deputies are Alois Kandels (CDU), Dr. Jörg Bruch (SPD) and Helmut Lorenz (BFL).[5]

Peter Nauert is the first mayor ever to be elected by direct vote by the people of Birkenfeld. Both his predecessors, Manfred Dreier and Erich Mörsdorf, headed both the town and the Verbandsgemeinde of Birkenfeld at once.

Werner Käufer was the last professional mayor of the town of Birkenfeld. Indeed, he was acclaimed in the office in 1968 with a great majority for another 12 years, but by 1970, he had to give up his professional office when, under administrative restructuring in Rhineland-Palatinate, towns with fewer than 7,500 inhabitants were merged into Verbandsgemeinden.

The following have served as mayor of Birkenfeld:

Coat of arms

The town’s arms might be described thus: Azure on a mount vert a birch tree with roots proper surmounted by an inescutcheon chequy gules and argent.

The main charge, the birch tree, is canting for the town’s name (“birch” is Birke in German). The inescutcheon with the red and silver “chequy” pattern is the coat of arms formerly borne by the “Hinder” County of Sponheim, thus bearing witness to that time in the town’s history. This composition is based on an old court seal from 1577.

The arms have been borne since 29 October 1923, when they were approved by the Ministry of the Interior at Oldenburg.

Town partnerships

Birkenfeld fosters partnerships with the following places:

Culture and sightseeing

Lambdacism in the local dialect

In bygone days, the local Birkenfeld dialect was marked by the peculiarity of often replacing the sounds /d/ and /t/ – and sometimes /r/ as well – with /l/, a shift known as lambdacism. For example, a Birkenfelder in those days would have said Fulerlale where Standard High German would have Futterladen (“fodder shop”). A full-sentence example can be seen in a remark made by the Birkenfeld sexton “Fuchs Karl” to the church councillor and parish priest Haag: Jo, jo, Herr Kirjerot, pririje kann e jela, awa noch lang net loule!, or in Standard High German, Ja, ja, Herr Kirchenrat, predigen kann ein jeder, aber noch lange nicht läuten! (“Yes, yes, Mr. Church Councillor, preaching is something anyone can do, but bellringing, not for long”).

Lambdacism, though, long ago vanished from the Birkenfeld dialect, having given way to the other shift that is customary in Hunsrückisch: rhotacism.


The Landesmuseum des Vereins für Heimatkunde im Landkreis Birkenfeld (“State Museum of the Association for Local History in the Rural District of Birkenfeld”) offers an overview of 2,500 years of cultural history. The centrepiece is the interactively equipped Celtic experience exhibit Kelten, Kunst und Kult erleben (“Experience Celts, Art and Worship”). Here, through reconstructions, archaeological finds and replicas, these people’s life is presented. Further exhibits deal with regional and territorial history of the Birkenfelder Land. Historical highlights among these exhibits are the High Middle Ages (13th to 15th centuries) and Oldenburg times in the Principality of Birkenfeld beginning in the early 19th century. Regularly changing exhibits deal with both historical and current themes.


The following are listed buildings or sites in Rhineland-Palatinate’s Directory of Cultural Monuments:[6]

Castle Birkenfeld’s gatehouse
The Old School on Kirchplatz
The former youth hostel; the building was built on the castle grounds on foundations that formerly supported a rectory


Right next to the Birkenfeld State Museum is the Maler-Zang-Haus (“Painter Zang House”). The house, built in 1883 in the bourgeois Classicist style, is where the painter Hugo Zang (1858–1946) once lived. In 2006, restoration work began in an effort to bring the house up to a standard worthy of monumental protection. Since 2008, the building has housed not only the Birkenfeld district folk high school but also seven gallery rooms for changing exhibitions of works by local and national artists.

Economy and infrastructure


The town’s economy is characterized mainly by small and midsize businesses. Owing to Birkenfeld’s history as a noble residence town and an administrative seat, no great industrial development ever took place here. The biggest employers, besides the administrative bodies, are thus a foundation and the Bundeswehr.

The German Red Cross’s (DRK) Elisabeth-Stiftung, a medical rehabilitation foundation, with its hospital, Berufsförderungswerk Birkenfeld (an institute for retraining workers whose condition precludes their return to former occupations), private vocational schools, measures for youth and senior citizens’ home is with more than 600 employees the town’s biggest employer. Following the Elisabeth-Stiftung is the Bundeswehr (among other units, the 2nd Luftwaffe Division) with more than 500 military and civilian personnel. The Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung, a foundation for keeping data on potential bone marrow and stem cell donors, has its seat in Birkenfeld.

On the lands of the former railway station, a centre for starting up businesses (“BIG-Center”) was built in the 1990s.



Birkenfeld has good road links to Bundesstraßen 41 (east-west, between Mainz and Saarbrücken) and 269 (between Bernkastel-Kues and Saarlouis), as well as to Autobahn A 62, which is the most important north-south link, running between Trier and Kaiserslautern. Furthermore, Bundesstraße 269 links to the Hunsrückhöhenstraße, and thereby to Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, which lies 50 km away by road. This journey is covered five times each day by a bus service.


Birkenfeld’s rail link is 5 km away in nearby Neubrücke, which has a station on the Nahe Valley Railway (BingenSaarbrücken). Saarbrücken can be reached by train in 45 minutes, and Frankfurt in less than two hours. The former spur line leading to Birkenfeld has been abandoned, and is now a cycle path.

Hiking trails

Running outwards from Birkenfeld are five local loop trails for hiking with a total length through the region of more than 60 km. These are the Glockenweg (roughly 16 km), the Eulenweg (roughly 9 km), the Mausweg (roughly 12.5 km), the Mühlenweg (roughly 12.5 km) and the Rehweg (roughly 12.5 km). The long-distance Nahe-Höhenweg and the Sironaweg, which leads by many Celtic-Roman archaeological finds, likewise run by Birkenfeld.

Cycle paths

The roughly 120 km-long Nahe-Radweg and the Rheinland-Pfalz-Route run right through the middle of town. They are supplemented by three local cycling circuits, R1, R2 and R3, with a total length of just under 80 km.

Public institutions


Since 1996, a vocational school has been established on the grounds of a former US military hospital in the neighbouring municipality of Hoppstädten-Weiersbach. The Environmental Campus Birkenfeld (Umwelt-Campus Birkenfeld) has, as a branch of the Trier University of Applied Sciences, made a significant contribution to the Birkenfeld region’s economic development.

For school-age children there is a broad array of offerings.

Enjoying more than local importance is the Elisabeth-Stiftung medical rehabilitation foundation, with its specific offers of qualifications to people with either physical or mental handicaps. Alumni come from all over Germany and even from neighbouring countries.

Among other academic offerings is the Volkshochschule Birkenfeld, a folk high school.


Birkenfeld is the location of a number of authorities:

Sport and leisure

Birkenfeld has, among other sport and leisure facilities, a heated outdoor swimming pool, the Stadion am Berg (“Stadium at the Mountain”), several sport halls, a zoo, two libraries, a vocational library and the youth centre. In 2000, a skatepark was built at the youth centre, which in 2005 was expanded with a funbox, a quarter pipe, a ramp and an obstacle.

Famous people

Sons and daughters of the town

The Trauernde at the Birkenfeld graveyard. The figure's design originates from Christian Warth.

Famous people associated with the town

Many well known people went to school in Birkenfeld:

Further reading

External links

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